This morning, on advice of their attorneys, the leadership of Grace Lutheran Church followed yesterday's order by Circuit Court Judge Molly GaleWyrick and turned over the keys of the congregation to a representative of the attorney of the break-away group Amazing Grace at 11:27 this morning.
The congregation was originally planning to withhold the keys, even at the risk of jail, but their attorney Jay Heit advised that it would risk multiple contempt charges, and only delayed the inevitable. By turning over the keys, the duly-elected Grace leadership no longer faces risk of jail.
A group of two dozen people or so worked this morning to assemble a newsletter -- Pastor Irgens finished writing his comments at 4 a.m. today. I'll share those comments later in a separate email when time permits.
Members of the news media interviewed Pastor Irgens and Jay Heit, the attorney representing Grace (as opposed to the breakaway group). Some things overheard from those interviews:
Attorney Heit said "As of right now, we're out, they're in, with "they" referring to the 67 people represented by Amazing Grace. "We gave those keys away, and someday, we hope to get them back."
Both Heit and Pastor Irgens said Grace plans to file an appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
Pastor Irgens said "The (ELCA Northwest) Synod Council has no right to determine who is a member of Grace Lutheran Church. Membership can only be decided by the Grace Lutheran Church constitution." All of the members who did not join the breakaway group Amazing Grace are now considered to be associate members. Pastor Irgens estimated that number to be 1,700 people.
Pastor Irgens called the judge's decision "an affront to the judicial system."
Pastor Irgens pointed out that, despite the two-year court fight, Grace Lutheran has continued to grow in serving its mission and is financially sound. He said Grace's position has been one of standing by the Gospel.
"Do we believe Jesus Christ is just a symbol as the social statements (of the ELCA) say, or do we believe that he is the person and son of God? Times are changing. If the ELCA can seize property and give it to a schismatic group, they can do anything."
The individuals who have now been displaced as members of Grace Lutheran Church by the judge's ruling plan a meeting tonight at Faith Lutheran Mission Church in Eau Claire to decide next steps.